Bradford shows his mettle in second big league start

May 28th, 2023

BALTIMORE -- The second time may actually be the charm. For , it definitely was.

The rookie left-hander’s MLB debut last homestand wasn’t anything to write home about, as he surrendered six earned runs over five innings in a loss to the Braves. Following his debut, he was sent back down to Triple-A Round Rock.

On Sunday afternoon at Camden Yards, Bradford’s second start went a little better. The Rangers’ No. 26 prospect per MLB Pipeline, Bradford tossed five innings of two-run ball against the Orioles. His efforts went unrewarded, as he left with a no-decision as Texas fell, 3-2, and could not complete the sweep.

“I think as much as anything, it was the command of his pitches on both sides of the plate,” manager Bruce Bochy said of Bradford’s improvement from the first to second start. “He had the changeup going today, and I thought his breaking ball was better too. I'm sure he was more relaxed too, and he looked it, even though the first thing was just a little rough. But overall, I mean, the kid really showed a lot today.”

In the first inning, though, Bradford looked well on his way to another rough big league start.

He surrendered a leadoff single to Cedric Mullins -- a pop-up that arguably should have been caught by , who lost the fly ball in the sun -- before two more consecutive singles drove in Mullins, and a walk loaded the bases with no outs.

But Bradford buckled down, getting a sacrifice fly and double play ball to end the inning with minimal damage. The rookie was cruising after that. He allowed just two more hits -- an Austin Hays triple and Jorge Mateo's single -- while notching all five of his strikeouts in the final four frames.

Bradford credited a first-inning mound visit with pitching coach Mike Maddux and catcher for the quick turnaround and his ability to virtually shut down the Orioles hitters afterwards.

“Mike just came out and said, ‘Hey, man, what's your strengths? What got you here?’” Bradford explained. “I actually said the changeup. He said, ‘What about your fastball, the heater in? Well, let's go heater in right here.’ And I’m so appreciative of Mike coming up for me and giving me a boost of confidence there.

“When Mike came out, with bases loaded, he just gave me the confidence to keep the heater in on them with the changeup down and away. Just getting back to my strengths is really what helped me.”

Though he was just at 85 pitches through five frames, Bochy said they didn’t consider sending Bradford back out for one more inning. All the Rangers needed was for him to put the club in a position to win the game and sweep the series. He did exactly that.

“The kid did a nice job,” Bochy said. “He could have let the game get away from us in the first inning. Tough luck on the sun ball and things could have unraveled. I loved his poise. He kept us in the game. ... He had gone far enough, that’s what we were hoping. Mike and I were definitely on the same page talking about it.”

A 2019 sixth-round Draft pick out of Baylor by the Rangers, Bradford is having his best professional season with Triple-A Round Rock this year. The lefty has gone 6-1 with a 0.99 ERA in eight starts for the Express, holding opponents to a .176/.251/.252/.503 slash line. Entering Sunday, he ranked among Pacific Coast League qualified leaders in ERA (1st), opponent batting average (1st), WHIP (1st, 0.93), wins (T1st) and strikeouts (8th, 42).

But he’s been in for a rude awakening in his first two MLB starts, facing the National League’s best team in the Braves in his debut and the AL’s second-best team in the Orioles on Sunday.

But there’s something to be said for how Bradford has been able to right the ship in his second start and compete with poise in big spots when handling a nearly impossible task.

“It only gets easier from here, I hope,” Bradford joked. “I mean, I take confidence going forward here. Even with the Braves game, it didn't go how we wanted to go, but just with the caliber of hitters that they had and still knowing that they didn't do much damage against the fastball and when I located the changeup well, the results were acceptable. Moving forward, that just helps give me get a boost of confidence.”